Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance: a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming and denying.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Is it worth it?

Do you feel like you're spinning your wheels when you engage in conversation with a "believer?" The following is an article I posted on my "Squidoo" lens. If you like my blog, or even if you don't like it but you find it interesting, I'd encourage you to follow me on Squidoo as well. Also, a little disclaimer - I realize that my "voice" has changed some over the last 3 or so years and those of you that have followed me from the beginning may notice this shift. In regards to that I can say that my anger over being deceived for so long has waned. I'm working on adopting a more balanced and objective approach to the conversation on faith - which I think is important if I want to be taken seriously. However, don't mistake the meekness for weakness; my position on and feelings towards religion (and all similar faith based belief systems) has only grown stronger.

Is It Worth It?
Does discussing your non-belief with believes feel like an exercise in futility?

If you're one of the brave few that have stepped off the edge of the abyss and into the volatile, unpredictable realm of religiosity - then I salute you! Trying to use rational and logic to combat irrational and illogical viewpoints often feels like an exercise in futility. I doubt that very many of us that have or do engage in discussion, debate or arguments with believers have ever heard the words, "oh, you're right - my religious beliefs are utter nonsense." It is also unlikely that very many of us have seen anyone give up their beliefs and join the ranks of those of us that do not, "believe." The lack of tangible results that we can trace back to our efforts to win hearts and (more importantly) minds can be discouraging. However, I submit to you that your struggle is not in vain.

Despite the fact that I can remember the exact moment I "lost my religion," it was years after the fact before I was able to look back and recognize the erosion that had been occurring in regards to my religious beliefs. Even after the fateful summer night when I walked (stormed) out of my church for the last time it was a good 12 months before I said the word, "atheist" out loud for the first time. Over the years since then I have heard/read many accounts of people who have been able to break free from the grasp of organized religion. Many, if not all of them described their deconversion as a slow process that often took years - so don't feel discouraged if it seems like nothing you're saying is getting through. In actuality, it is quite likely that you're helping that person along in their personal journey out of ignorance and delusion. "Rome wasn't built in a day," neither did it collapse in a day. Many believers have years or even decades of indoctrination to overcome, that was certainly true in my case. I was systematically programmed from a very young age to believe in, "God" in a process that can only be described as brainwashing. I was in my twenties before it occurred to me that questioning my beliefs was even an option! That might sound crazy, (and there's a good reason for that) ... because it is crazy.

Multiple scientific studies have examined the brains of believers and people who describe having had "religious experiences" using MRI, CT and PET scans. In all of these studies the finding was confirmed that religion/religious experiences had a direct correlation with literal, physical brain damage. A part of the brain called the, "hippocampus" (used to regulate emotion and in memory formation, among other things) actually atrophies (shrinks) in the brains of those that identified religious belief as a major factor in their life as well as those that claim to have had "religious experiences." Additionally the degree of atrophy that was discovered correlated with a person's religious affiliation. In a study done at Duke University, the research showed, "significantly greater hippocampal atrophy among born-again Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation, compared with Protestants not identifying as born-again." This means to combat such deeply held, personal beliefs a person not only has to overcome a lifetime of indoctrination (in some cases) but they also have to contend with neurological deficits. I realize how harsh this might sound - I'm not calling religious people, "stupid," (necessarily). I am simply stating the facts, religious faith is a stubborn "virus" and very, very rarely do people realize their mistake immediately after being confronted with the facts.

Keep these things in mind the next time someone quotes Sarah Palin or "Fox and Friends" in defense of their faith in "God." If you are lucky enough to have never been caught up in the throes of religiosity yourself, try and empathize with the folks you're speaking with that are entrenched themselves. The realizations a person has to contend with as they acknowledge their presuppositions are false can be extremely difficult. As a person defects from their religious worldview and transitions to a rational, empirical and factual understanding of life and the natural order of things they will need time to adjust. While the abandonment of blind religious faith/belief does means freedom from mental and emotional slavery, it also means having to face things like the finality of death, questions about their origin, purpose and place in the cosmos, etc... The "Truth" about these kinds of questions is infinitely more awesome and more beautiful than the feeble, infantile fairy tales put forth by the various religious traditions around the world. Yet it takes time to adjust to and understand before the inherent beauty, wonder and awesomeness of nature becomes clear.

The conversation about atheism and religion is worthwhile, but it requires time, patience, empathy and perseverance on the part of the non-believer. If you're truly interested in being better equipped to handle the intricacies and potential pitfalls that accompany these types conversations - join me as I share what I've learned over the years as I've been engaged in this debate. If you stick it out, the reward of being the first person to see the look in someone's eyes as they gaze up at the night sky and see our universe for what it is (for the first time) - is truly amazing."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Cosmos - Carl Sagan Would Be Proud!

Last night I sat down on my couch after a long day at work looking forward to watching the recording of Cosmos, (hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson) I'd made the previous evening. My hopes/expectations were high, though I doubted anyone could stir my emotions and enchant my mind the way Carl Sagan once did. Cosmos was a major catalyst of my deconversion, the picture Sagan painted of the beauty and complexity of nature, the size, scope and truly awesome origins of our universe and life on earth helped open my eyes. His words and the passionate way in which he delivered them cut through the fog that shrouded my mind. The fog created by more than 20 years of trying to reconcile infantile, bronze age explanations of life and the origin of our universe with what I saw through the lens of a microscope, a telescope and between the covers of books. Though Carl Sagan possessed one of the most brilliant scientific minds of all time, he never seemed condescending or aloof, his explanations of concepts like space and time were captivating, perspicuous and elegant and in my case his words were also provocative. Having grown up in an environment where "truth" was taught with a capital "T" and only being allowed to spend time with children and families from my private, Christian School and church; the concepts and ideas Sagan presented were in many cases entirely novel to me. As far back as I can remember I was taught that God spoke the universe into existence in 7 (literal days), that the earth was 6,000 - 10,000 years old and that ideas like evolution or the big bang were contemptible and anyone who subscribed to such preposterous and deplorable notions deserved mockery, ridicule and shame. Oh the irony... I am ashamed to admit that the words, "evolution is only a theory," and "there are no transitional fossils" have passed my lips. However, in my defense I can claim ignorance as an excuse. I was indoctrinated long before I reached an age where I could be held accountable for my beliefs and shielded from "secular ideas" which included most of what science/scientists had discovered about the natural order of things.

Returning to my earlier comment about having high hopes and expectation for the "new" Cosmos series and my skepticism about it being as moving and impactful as the original... This is one of the rare instances when I can say I am truly delighted to be wrong! By the time Neil deGrasse Tyson was standing in the famous "spaceship of imagination" looking down on our planet from space, I was entranced. Tyson's delivery was just as eloquent, equally moving and thanks to major advances in science and technology, even more educational and informative than that of the late Carl Sagan. The icing on the cake was the moment at the end of the episode when Tyson produced Carl Sagan's personal calender and showed his name written in it. As Tyson recounted the snowy Saturday he spent with Sagan in Ithaca and the lasting effect it had on his life, I was literally moved to tears. I think because I was able to identify with the feeling of excitement and wonder that Tyson felt that day, at age 17. I might not have had the chance to visit Carl Sagan's lab or share a cheeseburger with him, but he had the same effect on my life as he did on Neil deGrasse Tyson's. He opened my eyes to the awesome and wonderful world of science, he inspired me to learn all I could about nature, he was my first exposure to the scientific method and he played a major roll in setting me free from the oppressive ignorance of religion.

I'll leave you with a quote from another late, great thinker and atheist, Christopher Hitchens. As always, "Hitch" sums up my feelings in a way I only wish I could.

One must state it plainly. Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody—not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms—had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance and other infantile needs). Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion, and one would like to think—though the connection is not a fully demonstrable one—that this is why they seem so uninterested in sending fellow humans to hell.

See full episodes of "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" at: - Hosted by: Neil deGrasse Tyson

A Big Fat, "Fail" by The Friendly Atheist...

"Yes, There Are Pro-Life Atheists Out There. Here’s Why I’m One of Them" - Really..? REALLY???

The title of this post (on The Friendly Atheist blog, March 11th, 2014) is offensive, misleading and downright ignorant. The post was written by a guest author, not Hemant Mehta (the host of the blog), however that doesn't excuse him from allowing such a flawed, flimsy, emotional and downright ridiculous article such as this to be posted on his site.

In my experience (and abortion is a topic I've discussed with a good number of non-believers/atheists/agnostics) I've found the VAST majority are, "pro-life." To be clear I don't mean that in the Right Wing, picket sign toting, abortion clinic bombing, "Jesus loves the little children" sense of the word. I mean it in an objective, literal sense. Humanism and atheism go hand in hand in many cases, and the folks I've spoken to tend to agree that life is valuable and precious. (Which makes perfect sense considering the fact that this is the only moment in all of time that we'll have consciousness and non-believers reject the notion of an afterlife.) However, that does not mean that atheists/non-believers don't support a woman's right to choose, nor do they deny the fact that there are many instances when abortion is medically necessary or otherwise justifiable, such as in cases of rape or incest for example.

The label of "pro-life" is misused in my opinion, that should be the term "we" (non-believers) use to describe our stance. In most cases (again speaking from my experience) atheist/non-believers value life, human and non-human, but we consider the big picture when it comes to abortion. Will the child be born into poverty, drug addiction/abuse or physically, mentally/emotionally or sexually abusive environment(s)? Can the mother/family care for the child, can they feed and clothe the child and otherwise care for him/her? Is there a birth defect that will render the child unable to experience or enjoy life, or worse, will the child suffer unnecessarily and then die a wretched death fed through tubes and kept alive through artificial means? All of these examples and many more are moral considerations that one should take into account when considering "life" in a holistic context.

The religious movement that has labeled itself "pro-life" would be more correctly labeled, "pro-birth." They give no consideration to the actual life of the child or it's mother/father whatsoever, and I find such cruel indifference to suffering and misery disturbing. Although I suppose suffering and misery are sort of the stock and trade of most major religions though, aren't they? The Catholic Church made Mother Teresa a "Saint" for her "work with the poor" after all. Forgetting that in reality she was a friend of poverty and an advocate of suffering, she regarded women as little more than cattle-like vessels for birthing children destined to suffer in abject poverty the same way their parents had. She predicated these vile notions on the belief that suffering in this life led to a reward in the afterlife.

I've gotten off on a tangent, the point is the author of this post not only fails to support any of the arguments their trying make. But they also accused the majority of atheists of being utterly indifferent to human life, and that is not only offensive, it's outright ridiculous. I can only hope that the backlash this article has received from the atheist community inspires the author to revisit their ideas on the subject and will attempt to undo the damage they've done by publishing something so offensive, blatantly illogical and full of holes.

Click here to view the original article on, "The Friendly Atheist."